“It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” – Sun Tzu, Art of War
The Kansas City Chiefs square off against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. As Addicts, odds are that we as fans are well aware of the Chiefs’ strengths and weaknesses, even if we choose not to outwardly express our thoughts and concerns on certain issues. We know our Chiefs, so to speak. But beyond a few players or personnel, not all of us can say the same about knowing the Falcons.
Though Central Pennsylvania tends to be a melting pot for NFL fans, I can’t say that I know any Atlanta Falcons fans that I can speak football with on a regular basis. Deciding to be proactive, I looked a little further in depth to what Atlanta excelled at last season, and what they might be looking to do this season, and wasn’t really pleased with what I discovered.
The Falcons are generally perceived as one of the more balanced offenses in the NFL. The likes of Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez pose a clear passing threat, and Michael Turner has been one of the better premier backs in the league for some time. This is well-known.
Julio Jones put in an impressive preseason and has shown that he should be worth every bit that GM Thomas Dimitroff gave up in order to draft him. This should also be known.
What may not be known by the average fan is that the Falcons are among the fastest starting teams in the league. Since 2008, the Falcons ranked first in the league for points scored on their first offensive possession (173), and last season ranked third in the league in this category scoring 51 points on opening drives, which includes six touchdowns. It could be said that Atlanta has become quite accustomed to putting up points right off the bat, and if Kansas City can stall such efforts it may be a bigger momentum-shifting, tone-setting course of events than might otherwise be suspected.
Further, the Falcons and Matt Ryan have publicized Atlanta’s intentions to make more big play attempts in the passing game this season. They are going to throw the deep ball, and they are likely going to throw it more often than other teams, and with much more serious threats in Julio Jones and Roddy White. Matt Ryan has gone so far as to state that “… [completing] one out of three [passes] on balls way down the field [is] not a bad day”, so do not expect a couple failed attempts to be enough to deter Atlanta from going to the air on Sunday. The threat of the deep ball will be a daylong threat, and it will be up to the Chiefs’ banged up secondary and hurting pass rush to keep this threat from becoming a reality.
Additionally, the Falcons boast an 83% scoring efficiency on drives lasting 10 or more plays during the period of 2008-present, and own a 40-13 Win/Loss record during this period when Matt Ryan throws at least one touchdown pass during a game. So on top of guarding against the quick, big play, Kansas City will have to safeguard against the long drawn out drives. Peachy.
On a more positive note, Tony Gonzalez is winding down on his career, and though he has not experienced quite as big of a dropoff in productivity as, say, Antonio Gates, he is not the same player we remember so fondly from his time in Kansas City. Returning to Kansas City may give him an added boost in his play, but overall he’s not as big of a threat as some of us may remember; make no mistake about it, though, he is still a threat. Additionally, there has been a lot of speculation over several outlets that Michael Turner may be looking at a decline in his production. Turner has been around long enough for the general wear and tear that comes with being an NFL running back to take its toll on his body and slow him down a bit. The only other Atlanta running back getting a lot of notice this preseason has been Jacquizz Rodgers, and quite frankly, Nate Eachus put in better performances than Jacquizz Rodgers. When the Chiefs’ No. 5 RB looks better than the Falcons’ No. 2 (or 3) RB, it either says great things about the Chiefs, terrible things about the Falcons, or some combination thereof; in any case, if Turner can be shutdown, the remaining options aren’t looking too threatening.
If the Falcons’ offense is exceptionally good at scoring on their first possession, the Falcons’ defense is exceptionally good at preventing opposing teams from scoring on first offensive possessions. In fact, the Falcons only allowed 16 points to come from opponents’ first possessions last season, with only one touchdown contributing to that total. Since 2008, the Falcons have only allowed 20.1 points per game, and the organization seems to chalk this up in large part due to the team’s ability to set the tone of the game by preventing opponents from scoring on their first possessions. If you’re Romeo Crennel and Brian Daboll, this one seems pretty clear: score, and score at the first opportunity. Even if the drive takes several plays until meeting the end result of points on the board, it will be a great blow to the Falcons to shove the ball down their throat and have them second guessing their defensive decisions and strategy.
During the offseason, Atlanta traded a seventh-round pick to Philadelphia to retain the services of Asante Samuels. This move gives the Falcons three very good players in their secondary at the CB position: Samuels, Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes. Samuels himself is a bit of a ballhawk, but has been justifiably labeled as a bit of a liability at times. Samuels tends to play on instinct, and while sometimes those instincts help lend to his interception totals, he is apt to give up the big play when those instincts cause him to make the wrong decision on where the ball is going.
Brent Grimes is one of the better CBs in the league, and should be likened a bit to Brandon Flowers. Just as Flowers may not be much of a household name outside the AFC West, Grimes may not be much of a household name outside the NFC South. But like with Flowers, this doesn’t make Grimes any less great.
As for Dunta Robinson, he has been somewhat subjected to the stigma of not living up to his potential; this is likely to change this season. The Atlanta Falcons are putting a high priority on getting to the QB this season, and have been devising new blitzing schemes to better incorporate their personnel in reaching this goal; Dunta Robinson is a large part of these new plans. DC Mike Nolan will be playing Robinson out of the slot position, and allowing Robinson to take on a more physical style of football from this position. Robinson is expected to see more blitzing opportunities and couldn’t be happier for it. This might not be too much of a factor for Kansas City. Though Cassel didn’t look too good in the preseason on the longer developing plays where blitzing was involved, the Chiefs did realize quite a bit of success in throwing the shorter, quicker passes utilizing Charles and Hillis out of the backfield, and McCluster and the TEs over the middle. A successful drive against the Falcons may not involve a lot of impressive deeper down the field style plays, but may rather involve chipping yardage off one play at a time and rendering the Falcons’ new blitzing designs largely ineffectual.
Rubbing salt in the defensive wound, the Falcons lost MLB Curtis Lofton during the offseason which will not only have their LB corps hurting quite a bit, but is a big loss to their leadership on that side of the ball. I am much happier that the Chiefs will be facing a Falcons defense without Lofton than a Falcons defense with him.
The Falcons appear to boast an impressive punting game. P Matt Bosher is consistently successful at dropping the ball inside opponents’ own 20-yard lines, and the punt coverage unit was the NFL’s best last year, holding opponents to an average of 4.8 yards per return.
K Matt Bryant is 37 and has likely lost some kicking strength. While I wouldn’t classify him as great, he is performing at a slightly above average level, and can be trusted to ace kicks less than 40 yards, with 40+ yard attempts being a little iffier.
As for Atlanta’s return game, it looks to be in a transitional stage with untested (in regular games) returner Jacquizz Rodgers currently topping the charts. With poor coverage any returner could take it to the house, but the Chiefs do not appear to be likely to give up a TD to a team at this stage of their return game.
Overall, Sunday’s game will definitely be a tough battle, as Atlanta looks to be among the more well-rounded teams in the league.
Expected momentum shifts the Chiefs’ defense may cause: 1) stopping the fast start; 2) preventing the big play multiple times in a row; 3) holding Atlanta’s drives to nine plays or less before forcing the punt.
Expected moment shifts the Chiefs’ offense may spur: 1) enacting a fast start of their own; 2) beating the blitz; 3) making Atlanta’s D doubt itself (and their FO sorry for letting Lofton go) by striking up the middle by land and by air.
Expected momentum shifts on special teams: 1) engineering punt returns for double digit yardage; 2) forcing Matt Bryant to attempt 40+ yard FGs.
And, of course, the final momentum shifter is Kansas City’s 12th man: Make it loud, Chiefs fans, and remember, there’s no shame in making their ears bleed: it just adds more red to the field.